Mentorship and management
Charlottesville business leaders share lessons learned
Brought to you by Virginia Business and Bank of America, in 2021 we hosted a diverse group of six Virginia business leaders for three Diversity Leadership Series events. These virtual fireside chats featured the executives sharing their insights on leadership, their career paths, and diversity and equity.
The third installment of our series took place Dec. 3, 2021, in Charlottesville, with a conversation between Dr. Xiong Chang, owner of Acupuncture Chang, and Joseph Toe, the Charlottesville-based chief operating officer of Summit Eleven Inc., a freight transportation provider.
A native of China, Chang worked in one of his country’s top hospitals before moving to Switzerland and then to the United States, where he started his Charlottesville acupuncture practice in 2017. Toe was on the founding team of several transport-related businesses, including as managing director of Central Oceans USA LLC.
What follows is an excerpt of their conversation, including questions posed by Virginia Business Associate Publisher Lori Waran. To watch the entire program on video, visit VirginiaBusiness.com.
Joseph Toe: As you think about your experience in business, what advice would you give to someone who’s looking to maybe either start a business or is getting into business?
Dr. Xiong Chang: Pick up the direction or the profession you like and devote yourself. It’s not easy, but do your best. When I started my practice, I experienced a lot of difficulties. For example, I was not born in the U.S.; I came from another country. I have language and culture barriers.
I worked for somebody else and then decided to work on my own. I knew nothing about doing business. Then we found the place we liked, and we started to practice there. When everything was ready and we didn’t know how to get patients, we did advertising.
Chang: You have so many employees. What do you do to manage so many people?
Toe: In terms of the management of people, I think it really comes down to building that trust and building that relationship with each employee. We have a very open dialogue with our team; we’re constantly seeking their feedback and seeking their input. At the end of the day, the company that we want to build is a company that they want to work for.
Virginia Business: What is the worst mistake or maybe the “best” mistake you have ever made as a manager?
Toe: I made it fairly early on, and it’s been a guiding principle for me since then, but there was an employee that we really wanted. We sent him the job offer, and he didn’t respond right away. I took that as an indication of like, “Hey, he’s not interested.” I actually rescinded his job offer. He called me back in a panic like, “Hey, I’m interested. I’ve just been dealing with some personal stuff, but I really want to start.” He’s actually now one of our business partners.
He’s worked all the way up, and he’s been an incredible asset to us. I think the lesson that I took from that was like, “Hey, I need to be patient.” Everyone has things that are going on in their personal lives. We can’t always have things done exactly the moment that we need them done — or want them done, I should say.
Chang: In my office, I’m the only one working there. I think for me, I will have to say, I should be more patient, as you mentioned. I think in the beginning, I was a little worried about everything, but over time I think everything is getting better and better. I tell myself, “OK, next time when something happens, calm and patience.”
VB: When has the color of your skin mattered the most in your career — or has it ever?
Chang: I think not really because I try to treat every kind of patient — different backgrounds, different colors. I didn’t see the difference.
Toe: I think I wouldn’t necessarily say that I’ve had any super adverse experiences. I think early on in my career it made more of an impact than it does now. I think, at this point, I’ve started to build a network within the industry. I think I have a bit more of a track record. I’m not sure that it plays as much of an impact now, but I think certainly early on in your career when you’re still in that phase of trying to prove yourself to the people that are around you, I think it might have made me work a little bit harder and work a little bit longer.
VB: This is a question that’s obviously very relevant right now with the Great Resignation going on. How do you find and retain great talent? What do you look for when you’re seeking talent?
Toe: The labor market right now is incredibly tough and tight. In terms of employee retention, we really try to go out of our way to give everyone autonomy. I think that what we’re seeing a lot right now is that people want to be valued, and they want to feel as though they are making [an] impact with what they’re doing.
We’ve also moved to the Downtown Mall, and so it’s a nicer environment for people to work in. In terms of recruiting and acquiring talent, we just completed an acquisition, mainly because we wanted the talent that was within [that] company.
VB: Dr. Chang, if someone does not have a mentor, what would you suggest they look for in a mentor? Who has been your mentor?
Chang: Dr. [Wei-Chieh] Young. He was born in Taiwan. He moved to California many years ago. He has three Ph.D.s in acupuncture, Chinese medicine and philosophy. Also, he loves the patients. He said, “Do your best, and if you want to help your patient, you know how to do it.”
That’s why I think he’s a good [mentor]: He keeps learning. He is in his 70s, and he wrote one book a year; he [has written] more than 40 books now.
I think [a mentor] must be kind and open, and in many ways can help you to improve your knowledge and skills and build up a good relationship.
VB: Joseph, did you have a trusted adviser or mentor along the way?
Toe: One of them is actually my business partner, Todd [Alexander with Central Oceans USA LLC]. He was my first boss and taught me what it was to actually be in the real world and not a college student. His mentorship has been huge.
Also, one of my early customers, [Thomas Mende with Binderholz Timber Inc.], was also a huge mentor for me, just in terms of helping me to understand how to build relationships in a business environment. A lot of what we do is relationship-based, and so Thomas was a great mentor in that.
I love what you said about being open. I think that a good mentor [is] there to make you feel good and help you learn things, but they’re also there to give you a little kick in the rear when you need one. I think that open dialogue is critical in a mentor-mentee relationship.
VB: How do you balance your quality of life, given how busy you are?
Chang: First, I focus on my work, and after work, I focus on my family time. In my office, my time [is] only with the patients, but when I leave the office, I leave everything in the office. I try not to bring [it] home.
Toe: Again, I agree wholeheartedly. I try to make sure I have dedicated time for the family. My wife is incredible in terms of managing our household and helping with the kids and doing all of that and managing me.
In the workplace, again, it comes down to having a great team around you. I’m able to step away. One of the things that I learned really early on is you don’t want to be the barrier as a manager, and so I really try to make myself obsolete every day. I feel like if I can make myself obsolete, then I’ve done a good job as a manager. If I can empower our team to do what they need to do and give them the training, the support, all the things that they need to be successful, then that really frees up time for me to focus on the things that I want to focus on.
VB: What do you each wish that you knew now that you didn’t know 20 years ago that may have made your path to success a little easier?
Chang: If 20 years ago I knew [acupuncture] was my calling, I would have loved to devote my energy and time to do a better job. I feel I wasted my time in the past.
Toe: I think had I known the value of a network much earlier in my career, I think that would have helped a lot. Like I said, I’m a huge proponent of leaning on the people that are around you and people within the industry and having conversations, as many conversations as you can, and continuing that learning process by talking to people who have been there or who are experiencing the same thing. That network that you build throughout your time in business is so critical.
Some of those people are friends outside of business as well. We talk constantly. We’re constantly sharing work stories and saying, “Hey, I’m trying this service,” or “We’re working on this. What are you guys working on?” That’s been huge, and that’s been really valuable for me.